Held back by health care 

I was in a meeting about higher education when I finally realized just how destructive our health care system is. Some representatives from the University of Arkansas had dropped by to discuss a new report that contains recommendations for how to improve the state’s approach to higher education. Of course, they advocate devoting more public money to colleges and universities. The problem is that, even if legislators are sympathetic to the cause, they have few options for steering money in one direction or another. Most of the money in the state budget is earmarked for certain mandatory expenditures, leaving few resources available for other purposes. Of those non-discretionary budget items, Medicaid stands out. The program, which guarantees health care services to low-income citizens, is administered by the state, although the federal government pays for 75 percent of the costs. Even so, Medicaid absorbs a substantial amount of state tax dollars. Total Medicaid costs in Arkansas represent about 20 percent of the overall state budget. In 2004, our state spent more than $3 billion on Medicaid. About $2.4 billion of that came from the federal match, but the rest — almost a billion dollars — came from general revenue funds and the proceeds from the soft drink tax. Needless to say, the costs of Medicaid are increasing. The budget estimates for the next biennium contain much higher allocations for the program from the state general revenue fund: $557.3 million in 2006, and $670 million in 2007. And now President Bush is proposing to cut $60 billion from the federal contribution to Medicaid. This would shift a greater burden to our state budget, so that even less money would be available for other state priorities, like education, infrastructure improvement, and economic development. Put simply, Medicaid obligations are impeding our progress, and could keep us a poor state. After all, with such a high percentage of poor people, Arkansas already spends a significant proportion of its budget on Medicaid. As that drains money away from developing the very things that can lift people out of poverty, a vicious cycle develops. Nevertheless, solving the problem doesn’t require reducing health care services for poor people. On the contrary, our current predicament should lead people to finally demand the obvious solution: a national health insurance system guaranteeing coverage for all. Some people automatically recoil from the idea of national health insurance, as a result of the political Waterloo suffered by the Clinton administration when it offered a plan in 1993. But think about how things stand today. If you work, a percentage of your salary is deducted from your paycheck specifically to pay for the federal portion of Medicaid (not to mention Medicare, which provides health coverage for the elderly). In addition, your state taxes end up funding a large part of Medicaid’s administration in Arkansas. On top of that, if you have health insurance, your premiums are unnaturally high, because you are already subsidizing the people who do not have insurance. A front-page article in this week’s edition of Arkansas Business leads with the story of an uninsured woman whose $14,400 hospital bill that had to be written off, because she couldn’t pay it. How do you think the hospital covers those kinds of losses? Answer: By raising its overall rates. And that makes health insurance more expensive. So, in the end, people who work and have health insurance — mostly the American middle class — already bear most of the costs of our flawed health care system. In fact, they pay in three different ways: taxes, higher health insurance premiums, and reduced public investment in education, job growth, and other important areas. At least with some kind of national health insurance system, the enormous membership pool in theory could stabilize health care costs and reduce individual premiums. Plus the bureaucracy could be streamlined, so in a sense everyone would be paying a flat rate, instead of being taxed several times and then anteing up more on top of that. Workers and the wealthy would still be subsidizing the health care of low-income citizens, but in a much more progressive and efficient way. Best of all, poor states like Arkansas would be able to spend their limited tax revenues on programs to further enhance life for all of their citizens, instead of being held back in the course of barely providing for the basic health care of the least fortunate. In that way, the disadvantaged would have more opportunities to improve their station in life, and could arrive more quickly at the point where they no longer have to be subsidized. If that happens, a national health insurance system would eventually pay for itself.

From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Sunday and another open line

    Got anything for the open line?
    • Jul 23, 2017
  • But what about the Clintons? Last refuge of Trump, New York Times

    Trying to compare Donald Trump's reaction to the Russia investigation with Bill Clinton's dealings with Kenneth Starr should be a non-starter if the facts mattered. But these days — and to the New York Times — it ain't necessarily so.
    • Jul 23, 2017
  • Football is king, Bentonville edition

    Good analysis in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of an unannounced Bentonville School Board vote last week to put $2 million into a football stadium for West High School despite board assurances in last May's tax election that no money would go to a football stadium.
    • Jul 23, 2017
  • More »

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Another Jesus

    • IBS, were you there in Benghazi to personally witness all of Hillary's blunders like you…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • If God felt it necessary to replace the ten commandments, he could do it like…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Football for UA Little Rock

    • He's BSC. Students and tuition-paying parents should be VERY vocal that a football program won't…

    • on July 23, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation